Iran Cited Over Execution of Minors

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In a troubling report on the execution of minors in Iran, Amnesty International said yesterday that at least 71 child offenders are on death row and more than 24 have been executed since 1990, more than in any other country.

Defendants younger than 18 are being hanged after swift decisions and hurried procedures, said the report, "Iran: The Last Executioner of Children." Of the 24 child offenders reported executed, 11 were still younger than 18 at the time of their deaths.

The 41-page report lists names and details of each known case but says the actual number of executions was higher because many death penalty cases in Iran go unreported. In the last three years, only three other countries used the death penalty against minors: China executed one child offender in 2004, Sudan executed two in 2005 and Pakistan executed one in 2006.

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said Iran's execution of child offenders not only goes against international standards but "is absolutely repulsive and unconscionable."

Iranian officials deny that the government executes minors, although two such executions have been recorded this year, according to Amnesty's Iran country specialist, Elise Auerbach.

Under Iranian law, capital offenses include adultery by married people, incest, rape, four convictions of an unmarried person for fornication, three convictions for drinking alcohol, or four convictions for homosexual acts among men.

The report noted the emergence in recent years of a growing movement for the abolition of the death penalty for minors. The report said activists, lawyers, journalists and children's rights advocates have stepped up to represent minors on death row and in some cases prevented executions by highlighting miscarriages of justice. They have campaigned for an abolition of the laws allowing for such executions, putting themselves at great personal risk and facing bureaucratic harassment and travel bans.

In one case outlined in the report, Sina Paymard was a 16-year old drug addict in 2004 when he was sentenced to death for knifing a man during a fight over a marijuana purchase. Two weeks after his 18th birthday in 2006, he was taken to the gallows to be hanged.

With a noose around his neck, Paymard's final request was to play the ney, a reed flute, which his father had given him. The mellifluous tune moved the victim's relatives, who agreed to a payment from his family in lieu of his execution. After the family struggled to collect the $160,000, the victim's relatives refused to accept it. Paymard remains on death row in a prison in Karaj.

Several of the child offenders on death row are members of minority groups, such as Iranian Arabs, Afghan refugees, homosexuals, and young girls who had been abused and molested.

The most prominent capital case is that of Atefeh Rajabi , who was hanged on Aug. 15, 2004, in the town of Neka, in northern Mazandaran province. She was 16 and had been sentenced to death for a fourth conviction of crimes against chastity. Her crimes included being alone in a car with a boy and being caught at a cafe without a chaperon. Officials claimed she was 22, but her birth certificate listed 1988 as her year of birth. She was arrested repeatedly as a child by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the first time when she was 13.

According to a BBC documentary, Rajabi was abused by guards in Behshahr prison. After having served her third prison term, she was arrested while at home because of a petition signed by local police, which they claimed came from Neka residents.

During the trial, she confessed to having entered into an abusive relationship with 51-year-0ld Ali Darabi. Losing her temper under harsh questioning, she shouted at the judge that she had been a victim of this older man. It was her fourth conviction for crimes against chastity.

Human rights activists said they are encouraged by discussion in Iran of legislation calling for the establishment of a Juvenile Court, with the aim of prohibiting the death penalty for minors in most cases.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company